Puppy in bean bagPersonality of the Alaskan Malamute

By nature, the Malamute is a placid, easy going , fun loving dog, but many people find themselves unwilling or incapable of coping with the highly intelligent, sometimes devious, Malamute mind.

The Malamute is not the fabled one-man dog; following loved ones with blind faith and obedience. First, those loved ones must prove themselves worthy of faithfulness and obedience. The Malamute can be stubborn and independent, ignoring his family with disdain and happily following a stranger.

Respect is the key word. Using somewhat rough affection, make your Malamute feel your attention is not given lightly and that is something to be valued and earned. Force or unbending severity will make a Malamute sullen and uncooperative, and he may turn to aggression as a protection to his pride. Be firm when training your Malamute. Be sure he understands what you expect of him. If you are unable to follow through and enforce a command, don’t issue it.

Eskimo & MalamuteThere is no need to fear your Malamute. Despite stories of vicious arctic dogs, the Malamute is basically a friendly gentle dog. Malamutes are not overly successful as guard dogs because of their trusting, friendly nature. However they have no fear and have been known to be worthy opponents if their family is threatened. Their main value as watch dogs lies in their size and formidable appearance. They are not often challenged.

While they may react aggressively out of loyalty and love, Malamutes are difficult - if not impossible - to train for formal guard duties. During World War II, Malamutes were inducted into the army for the purpose of guarding installations in their native Alaska. It was discovered that the basic nature of the breed was simply too friendly and gentle. Only when cruel and extreme training methods were used would they attack a human and then they were dangerous to all and impossible to control.

The working dogs of the North were often mistreated and neglected, left to survive by their own wiles. Native mushers did not encourage a great deal of affection or trust. The dogs grew up half wild, with codes of their own, competing as equals with humans for food and developing their independent nature to compensate for the lack of personal attention.

Children & MalamutesEven today, there are many instances of cruelty, neglect, and tormenting which can turn any dog. Children are usually the worst offenders. A penned or chained dog is easy prey to bored youngsters, but let the animal retaliate and the world hears about the unstable temperament of the breed in general. I answer the commonly asked question "How are your dogs with children?" with "How are your children with dogs." People turn small puppies over to their children with no instructions or supervision on care. The child may not even realise he is tormenting a pet into defending itself, and when it does it is disposed of as being "vicious". The parents attitude regarding the child-dog relationship is very important in determining whether a home is suitable for a puppy.

Like a child, the Malamute goes through a "teenage stage", testing his family to see just how far he can go. A Malamute that does not learn respect during this teenage rebellion is almost impossible to change as an adult. The Malamute’s friendly, gentle attitude toward humans does not extend to other dogs - especially those of the same sex. Malamutes constantly strive to prove their superiority to strange dogs.

Alaskan Malamute Sledding teamThis aggressiveness is perhaps the biggest disadvantage the breed has and the main reason Malamutes are often dropped from teams. Except in unusual cases, Malamutes can be raised to respect the rights of other dogs - if properly brought up from puppyhood. Malamutes do not always fight to prove superiority. They also do battle for the sheer joy of it, tails wagging happily the entire time. This does not make the fight any less violent, for Malamutes attack any project with enthusiasm! Most owners take the necessary precautions to protect the innocent canine public rather than battle their dogs to change this natural compulsion to fight. Breaking up a fight can be simplified by having a spray can of "Dristan" or similar product close at hand in the kennel or on the sled. A good spray in the face will take the breath - and the fight - out of the dogs and will not damage the eyes. This is an inexpensive precaution which can save costly vet bills, and as one musher put it, "clear up their sinuses!"

The Alaskan Malamute, a natural hunting dog, is not usually successful as a farm dog. Cats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep and occasionally larger animals are fair game to the Malamute. Constant contact with these animals from puppyhood may bury this instinct, but a Malamute owner must be prepared to cope with this aspect of the arctic heritage. A Malamute will adjust comfortably to confinement quite happily if raised with a comfortable kennel as "home" where he is fed, loved, and played with. There is no cruelty involved in confining a Malamute for his own safety.

Try to understand the natural instincts you are dealing with when coping with the Malamute personality. Their pride, independence, aggressiveness, and high spirits were all necessary to survive the life for which nature created them. Realise that they dig huge holes in the yard not to annoy but to provide a cool den in the summer and a warm home in the winter. Allot them a portion of the property where they are free to bury treasures and create their wolf-like dens. Weather and living conditions may not necessitate these activities, but the instincts of the Malamute are strong enough to override the changes civilisation may have produced.

Malamute Obedience ClassThe more an animal is trained, the more his intelligence is developed. This can work to both good and bad results with the Malamute. His reasoning power and versatility can enable him to excel in many fields. His independence and stubbornness can cause disagreements. And his amazing memory can cause embarrassment. Since temperament is so much a part of compatible living with a Malamute, please, for the sake of all involved, be sure that this is the type of dog you want before buying your Malamute.

This is not the breed everyone can or should own, and there is enough variety in the dog world to offer happy, comfortable relationships for everyone.

Written by Dianne Ross (USA)